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Whales play off Mooloolaba Coast as the season heats up

Mooloolaba, Australia: Whales and their calves are playing and checking out the swimmers in record numbers as Sunreef’s Swim with Whales reaches heads towards its peak.

As Australia’s first Swim with Humpback Whales experience operators, Sunreef operate its unique tours from July to the end of October and already they are seeing lots of new whale calves.

Sunreef Swim with Whales supervisor, Dan Hart, said nearing the half way point of the season, they were seeing more whales than this time last year, including some very curious calves.

“What we call the whale highway runs up from Antarctica up Australia’s east coast and this year more than 20,000 whales are expected to make the journey, with the population increasing by about 10 per cent a year,” Dan said.

Sunreef Swim with Whales Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia 3

Photo: Brett Wortman

“At this time of the season there are still some whales heading north as well as many who have bred and/or had their babies and are making their way slowly home.

After launching Australia’s first Swim with Whales experience in 2014, there is an increasing strong demand for this truly unique wildlife experience and Sunreef are adding more tours during the September school holidays to help meet the demand.

Dan said the four-hour tours, which complied with national whale watching guidelines as well as Sunreef’s own strict Code of Practice, provide a unique and intimate experience with just 20 guests aboard.

Sunreef Swim with Whales Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia 5

Photo: Brett Wortman

It takes about 15 minutes from the Sunreef dock to get out to the beautiful waters off Mooloolaba, which are at their best during the winter months when the whales migrate. Water temperatures during this time range from 17 to 23 degrees C and visibility is regularly up to 20 metres.

Sunreef provide a full briefing on what to expect and safety procedures as well as providing all required wetsuits and snorkelling equipment.

Once a whale is sighted, the boat will be put into neutral 100m or more away from the whale, and if the conditions are determined safe by our trained crew, the boat will be turned off and swimmers will be allowed into the water holding on to the floating line attached to the boat.

Sunreef Swim with Whales Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia 1

Photo: Migration Media Underwater Imagery

“Then it’s all up to the whale – it is a natural experience and it is 100 per cent on the whale’s own terms,” Dan said. In our experience, the whales seem as intrigued by us as we are of by them and often come close to swimmers, gliding effortlessly around us, with such a gentleness that it’s like they recognise our fragility in comparison and know we are there out of wonder and respect.

“Just this week, we have had three different encounters with mother whales and their calves coming over to swimmers to check us out, with one calf even circling back with her mum following us to have another look. It’s an incredible feeling to be in the water with these gentle giants – they know we are there – and nothing can describe the feeling when you are just metres away from these animals and they look you straight in the eye.

To help meet demand Sunreef Mooloolaba is working with Australia Zoo and using their research vessel Croc One to offer more tours.

Sunreef Swim with Whales Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia 6

Photo: Migration Media Underwater Imagery

Dan said that numbers are filling up fast as the school holidays approach and he encourages everyone to book soon to avoid disappointment, especially those travelling from interstate.

“We have had some awesome encounters so far this year and as the whales turn around in the next few weeks and head south we are expecting more great encounters, as when they head south it is at a slightly slower pace providing a great opportunity to swim with them.”

Sunreef is also working with the University of the Sunshine Coast, reserving two seats on every boat for researchers.

“Researchers are studying the whale behaviour as well people’s attitudes about whale and environmental conservation before and after their experience. It’s really important to us to help spread the word about these magnificent creatures and to help ensure their preservation through education.”

Sunreef Swim with Whales Great Barrier Reef Queensland Australia 4

Photo: Migration Media Underwater Imagery

Dan said he was privileged to swim with whales regularly during the season but that he never takes it for granted.

“It is such a unique experience that every time it’s just like my first all over again. It’s almost indescribable but it gives you a rare insight into their world – it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

“I also love seeing and hearing everyone’s reactions when we have a great encounter – everyone is so awestruck. We see the whales from the surface and then you will hear the swimmers squealing excitedly through their snorkels as the whale swims past – it’s just takes your breath away every time!”

The whale swimming and watching operations work out of Mooloolaba in the heart of Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast.